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Author's profile photo Jason Cao

Between You and Me: There’s more to sustainability than Reduce-Reuse-Recycle

Today, I continue to share with you what I’ve dug up in SAP, SCN, and the community I live in.

My Introduction to Sustainability

I had the fortune of spending 3 weeks last month learning about Sustainability under the tutelage of Dr. Will Low, at Royal Roads University. Although Will’s intention was not to turn our cohort of learners into ‘greenies,’ I must admit taking much of his teachings to heart. I hope to share my interpretations of a few concepts about sustainability with you (in other words, these are only my opinions). A simple blog is not sufficient to share 3 weeks worth of discussions, and according to Will, even 3 weeks can only “scratch the surface” of what we can learn about sustainability.

Starting off with the definition of sustainability and sustainable development, I like this one from UN’s World Commision on Environment and Development (WCED) the best:

“development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (Our Common Future, 1987 aka Brundtland Report)

What ever definition you prefer, you may notice 3 common elements of sustainable development:

  1. Responsibility and care for future generations
  2. Awareness of the impact of our decisions on the Triple Bottom Line (ie. Profit, People, Planet)
  3. Conservation of ‘natural capital’ (which is limited and can’t regenerate fast enough to keep up with our current demands)

How Many Cans of Pop Does a Developer Drink?

According to SAP Vancouver’s GreenTeam, the developers at the Vancouver office drink more than 300 cans/day, or over 6,000 cans/month, or 72,000 cans/year! (More about the GreenTeam later.) In some companies where pop flows more freely, I’m sure the numbers are much higher.

However, “What fuels the software industry?” is not the main topic of this post. The question is “What are companies doing about issues like empty pop cans and other wastes?” or, if I haven’t made my case clear enough, “Why should companies care to implement sustainable practices?”

Many businesses the world-over have realized that being “green” brings great benefits. For starters, socially responsible practices saves them money, because they’re using fewer resources (ie. save energy, reduce waste), spending less on maintenance, and reducing the negative impacts (ie. health and safety) to their staff. The trickle-down effect most likely includes intangible benefits, such as greater employee pride, customer loyalty, and more profound connections with other stakeholders.

In their book, “Green to Gold,” Daniel Esty and Andrew Winston, point to studies that show those companies who proactively engage in eco-friendly practices are more successful (ie. profitable) than those who either don’t participate or only do so to meet regulatory requirements. They point to countless examples of organizations that have benefited from what they call an “Eco-Advantage.” Eco-Advantage as they define it is a “sustained competitive advantage” that environmental leaders gain for their businesses when they find ways to cut costs and risks, increase revenues, and improve intangible values (Esty and Winston, 2009). These organizations range from BP, to Walmart, to Ben & Jerry’s, to IKEA.

Turning Local Problems Into Solutions

Let’s go gack to the pop for a moment. What happens to all those empty pop cans?

The SAP Vancouver office has a “GreenTeam” whose goal this year is to incorporate sustainable technology and ‘green’ ideas for the workplace. The GreenTeam discovered that there was no formal recycling program in place, and that much of the empty aluminum cans were discarded with the general waste. The added waste also meant added disposal costs. To address the issue, the GreenTeam has made an agreement with a local venture in Vancouver Downtown Eastside (which according to Statistics Canada is the most impoverished neighbourhood in all of Canada), to collect these empty aluminum cans each week. The money generated from the aluminum refunds will go to support initiatives in this neighbourhood. This office has also reduced its disposal costs and reduced the amount of waste it creates.

From April 19-24, it was Earth Week at SAP Vancouver (and hopefully many other places as well). The GreenTeam also invited a group of local vendors to an Eco Fair this week, to show off their environmentally sound products. These exhibitors include: TransLink, Terasan Gas , Living Ocean Society, Bullfrog Power, Zipcar, Co-operative Auto Network, Evergreen, and David Suzuki Foundation.   

I encourage you to check out these organizations, their ideas, and profound messages on sustainability. I like the different sustainable practices already implemented by the GreenTeam, and the direction it is heading – so much that I joined the team/cause. Are some of the things we, and other businesses doing enough to sustain the future of our businesses, as well as our natural environment?

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My Biggest Take-Away: From Eco-Effeciency to Eco-Effectiveness

I really liked this quote that Dr. Will Low shared with us in the Sustainability seminars. It comes from Bill McDonough and Michael Braungart’s book “Cradle to Cradle” (2002):

“Eco-efficiency, the current industrial buzzword, will neither save the environment nor foster ingenuity and productivity. We propose a new approach that aims to solve rather than alleviate the problems that industry makes.”

They argue that in addition to old concepts and imperatives of Reduce-Reuse-Recycle, we also need to add three new R’s – Rethink-Redesign-Rebuild.

This means a shift in the way we design products and build things, such that waste and pollution are eliminated in the production process. Their mantra of “Waste = Food” emphasizes the inspiration we must draw from biological and ecological examples to create production models that feeds itself.

For a sustainability newbie like me, this is already getting a bit deep. I also have no intention of doing a book review at this point. So I tend to ask questions like “How can this be implemented?” or “Show me real examples?”

Actually, there are many examples in McDonough and Braungart’s book. I happen to like the example of Interface (the carpet ‘manufacturers’) the best! Interface has transformed their manufacturing business into a servicing business by embarking on a journey of business innovation and sustainability long before any others in the industry. The initial idea was quite simple – manufacture carpeting in tile-format instead of the traditional roll-format. This allowed customers to contact Interface to only replace worn carpet areas, rather than replacing an entire roll. Brilliant! Lower cost for customers, ongoing servicing revenue for Interface, less waste and disposal cost, etc. Interface is a great example of a company that has reimagined and redesigned their business to make sustainability their mission.

Where do we go from here?

This post does not end with a rallying cry to pick up your garbage, save a tree, or to turn off the lights. Instead, I simply want to encourage you to learn as much as you can about the topic of “Sustainability” and why it might matter to you.

Some SAP links to get you started:

SAP’s Sustainability Report

Apps 4 Climate Action: Code for the Climate! – New contest for software developers. Must see!!! (Regardless of whether or not you’re qualified to enter the contest.)

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      4 Comments
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      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Thanks for sharing> Was this an evening program?
      Author's profile photo Jason Cao
      Jason Cao
      Blog Post Author
      It was a wonderful series of seminars held during the day at Royal Roads University in Victoria, British Columbia. RRU is well known for walking their talk on sustainability.
      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      just what was needed - a good, practical intro into how / what / where sustainability thinking and practice can be implemented. thanks, jason.

      --Pat

      Author's profile photo Marilyn Pratt
      Marilyn Pratt
      Timely as today we launch the new Sustainability report which should, later today May 13th, take one to a very interesting interactive version.
      Thank you for taking the time to share the great links, resources and personal "take-aways" in this blog.  You guys to the north are really focused on ways to "leave no trace".